From The “Grandstanding Ingratitude” Files…Ethics Dunce: Boston Red Sox Owner John Henry

Ah, Ethics Alarms heaven! The statue-toppling mania issue has collided with the Boston Red Sox, just two days after my pilgrimage to Fenway Park!

ESPN reported yesterday that Red Sox owner John Henry wants Boston to change the name of  the street that borders the legendary park, Yawkey Way, and he is trying to exploit the   current political correctness mania that has cities pulling down statues of war heroes in the dead of night to accomplish his goal.

That’s my characterization, of course, not ESPN’s.

Henry told the Boston Herald that he is “haunted” by the racist legacy of previous owner Tom Yawkey, who led the team from 1933 to 1976. Because he is haunted, he thinks that it is fair and right that the man who beyond question saved the team, ran it as a Boston institution and public utility, and is as responsible as anyone for the fact that Henry owns one of the prestige franchises in all of sports, should be dishonored and shunned because he wasn’t enlightened about civil rights long before Martin Luther King began marching.

Such disgraceful moral grandstanding and self-righteous ingratitude is seldom seen. But I guess if anyone should be able to grandstand, its someone who owns a baseball park.

For those who mock the idea that the desecration of Robert E. Lee’s statues leads directly to George Washington, now hear this; for the Boston Red Sox, Tom Yawkey is George Washington.

The only owner any one remembered before Tom Yawkee bought the team was Harry Frazee, consigned to Beantown Hell for selling Babe Ruth (and many other stars) to the New York Yankees in 1919. From that moment on, the team was a perennial loser, often in last place, while New York won pennant after pennant and sneered at its proud rival on the Bay. In 1933,

Tom Yawkey , a lumber tycoon and baseball enthusiast, bought the team and poured money and love into it, buying other team’s stars (Left Grove, Joe Cronin, Jimmy Foxx) and turning the team into worthy challenger to the Yankees.  From the beginning, Yawkey paid no  attention to the bottom line as he tried to build a champion out of the franchise, or as he put it, “to bring a championship back to the fans of Boston.” This was during a period when teams had permanent control over player contracts, and most owners used that leverage to pay players pathetic wages. Not Tom Yawkee. He was criticized for over-paying players–hilarious now, when we’re talking about his paying a utility infielder $15,000 when others of his ilk were making just $8,000, and current utility players make a couple million dollars a season. Sportswriters in Boston called the Red Sox a country club, and blamed Yawkee for “falling in love with his players.” In 1960, Ted Williams had to ask Yawkey to cut his salary, because he felt embarrassed after a bad year, his only one.

Was Yawkey a racist? He was born in 1903, and grew up during the Wilson Administration, when Jim Crow really took of. Sure he was a racist, along with about 95% of the whites in the nation.  His team’s policies reflected those attitudes, but it is fair to point out, as Henry does not, that those attitudes were Boston’s as well. I grew up there: it was a racially divided city then, and to some extent still is. Yawkee is blamed for the fact that the Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate (the Yankees were the next-to-last), and that the team gave Jackie Robinson a tryout and scouted Willie Mays without signing either. There is no evidence that Yawkey had anything to do with those decisions (which only look like horrible mistakes in hindsight), and there were 14 other teams that failed to recognize the potential of Robinson and Mays. Yawkey also may have been evolving, like George Washington, who ended his life as a slavery opponent. The 1967 Red Sox had three African-American regulars, and added a fourth, Elston Howard, for the stretch run, The Red Sox World Series roster had five blacks on the team, or 20%.

When Tom Yawkey died, the City of Boston re-named Jersey Street, which runs past the entry to Fenway Park where the Red Sox play, Yawkey Way in his honor. The name also doubles as an honor for his wife, Jean Yawkey, who continued to own a portion of the team until her death.

I’m sorry that Henry is “haunted,” but the reality remains that Thomas Yawkey was a significant and perhaps the most significant and influential figure in Boston Red Sox history, and his influence on baseball, the Red Sox and Boston was more positive than negative, unless the assumption is that race is all that matters. (This is the assumption of the progressive movement, or close to it.) He owned the club from 1933 to 1976, making him the longest-tenured team owner in baseball history. Yawkey was a major force in building The Jimmy Fund, Boston’s charity for children stricken with cancer. When the Boston Braves left town for Milwaukee, Sox icon Ted Williams suggested to Yawkey that the Red Sox should assume the Braves’ sponsorship and support of the program, and the team has  given millions to the Jimmy Fund ever since. While Yawkey was alive, no advertisements were permitted inside the park, except a large billboard for the Jimmy Fund. Here is what John Henry’s Fenway looks like:

You see that little circular logo on the wall, the one that is about a third of the size of the Gulf logo to the left? That’s all that’s left of Yawkey’s huge billboard. I think the current Red Sox ownership’s priorities are well-illustrated by the contrast.

Every bit of joy, commerce, publicity, excitement, civic pride, drama, social cohesion and more that Boston and New England have gained by their adoration of the Boston Red Sox are directly or indirectly due to the work and generosity of Tom Yawkey. I’ll be haunted if the city and the team show its ingratitude by not leaving the street by the park he loved as a remembrance of what he gave to them both.

Now I’ll quote myself in part, from an earlier essay dismantling calls for Yawkey’s name to be erased from the team’s history:

Remember, we are talking about accomplishments, recognition and gratitude, not character. In assessing what good a man has done and whether a life should be honored, attitudes are less relevant than achievements. Does the fact that Yawkey was a racist, the attitude and the consequences of it, outweigh everything else he did for the city, the sport, children, and cancer research?

The broader ethical issue is the continuing obligation all organizations and institutions have to honor their founders, builders and leaders—flaws, mistakes, warts and all. Every so often in Washington D.C. journalists beat the drums to take J.Edgar Hoover’s name off the F.B.I building. Hoover was, in many ways, a despicable man and a serial power abuser, but the F.B.I is his legacy. He built it, and he earned forever the right to be honored for that. Walt Disney had some dark and disturbing political beliefs, but the empire and culture his genius built doesn’t bear his name to honor those beliefs, any more than Yawkey Way salutes Tom Yawkey’s racial biases. They acknowledge a debt of gratitude for real, tangible contributions to his industry, his art, American society and millions of people.

…[In 2013], shaken by the Boston Marathon bombing, Boston’s spirits were raised and healed in great part by the triumphs of the Boston Red Sox, the team Tom Yawkey rescued and transformed into the spiritual heart of the community. Boston owes him for that, and always will. But to those…for whom political correctness trumps everything, the lives of history’s unenlightened deserve only ignominy and contempt.

Well said, Jack.

And I dub this mess…

  The Confederate Statuary Ethics Train Wreck.


31 thoughts on “From The “Grandstanding Ingratitude” Files…Ethics Dunce: Boston Red Sox Owner John Henry

  1. “But I guess if anyone should be able to grandstand, its someone who owns a baseball park.”

    When he’s not scrambling around and making a living and doing a million other things, Jack will be here all week folks.

  2. The Yawkey management team comprised three notable individuals who supported Red Sox policy. Eddie Collins was General Manager until 1948 when Joe Cronin replaced him. Later Cronin – elevated to President of the American League was replaced by Pinky Higgins. Higgins, in particular, was quite open regarding race and baseball.

    So will Cronin’s retired number be removed? Will Henry express the same level of concern over Cronin and Yawkey being in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Will Henry go on record and become baseball’s catalyst to expunge the genocide against Native Americans by challenging the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves to a name change?

    That is not the core issue, but merely an ancillary one since the topic on the table is the “R” word and that comes down to a business – John W. Henry & Company, Inc. Just what companies have had a connection with Henry? Since many businesses and nstitutions have profited from the slave trade in their history and there is an extensive list.

    Did Henry have any involvement with any of those companies? How many companies connected via advertising with the Red Sox have a taint of racism in their past? Would Henry be willing to cut ties? Is Henry as uncomfortable with past practices? There may be none but based on the historical tentacles of slavery that would be surprising.

    I don’t mind outrage since I occasionally wallow in it. And – like Henry – I also have been selective in my outrage, but if Henry wishes to bring up racism in his organization then do have the courage to go full tilt and not be selective.

  3. What a feeding frenzy has been unleashed. This won’t end well. Every idiot with a remote reason is going to harness this faux outrage to punish or get revenge on some person they can however remotely connect to a racist thought or person someone had a connection with sometime in the distant past. I’ve seen this exact same pattern played out in every playground or classroom. Once a questionable action has been allowed to happen every opportunist jumps on.

  4. I’ve given this one some extra thought. The argument from the more reasonable Leftists is that the Confederate statues should be in a museum, where they simply tell a historical story, and not out in public as “objects of veneration.” I think that’s a fair summary of the argument.

    Someone also made the comparison to statues of Lenin or Stalin being torn down in the former USSR…or statues of Hitler. Should Russia or Germany insist on keeping THOSE up? That’s a powerful argument, but it didn’t sit well with my logic brain for some reason. I think I know why now.

    The founders of the United States of America were anti-statists, not socialists like Hitler or Stalin. They did not want to be revered. Washington, as I understand it, set the precedent by stepping down from his “throne” after two terms. The American government, by its own design and intent, is meant to be mistrusted and constantly critiqued and kept in line by the people. It is not meant to be revered.

    That the founders didn’t want to become idols doesn’t preclude statues and monuments eventually being made of them. Public places look good with art in them, and artists and craftsmen want to depict the important people and events from history. I think this is where the Left is getting it wrong. They have a fetish for transformative, charismatic leaders, and in Marxist circles, it’s not uncommon to see pictures and statues of leaders treated as religious icons; the leaders themselves beyond criticism. In Marxism, statues are icons. In America, they are art.

    I think things evolved into what they are now, with statues, plaques, and monuments existing for just about every important American, for a good reason. American statues are art depicting history. You see the statues, you read the plaques, and you learn some things. It doesn’t matter if the statues are in a park or in a museum, and there’s no logic to that distinction anyway, unless you think that learning can only happen in a building. In this country, having a statue made of you doesn’t make you an object of “veneration,” and worshipping politicians isn’t a thing we do here. Unless…

    • Just a couple of things.
      Was that a specially modified Nazi salute?
      What about the little boy on the side who seemed not to want to participate? Shouldn’t we check out his motivation?
      Are any of those children descended from slave owners?
      Do any of their parents or ancestors have ties to racist groups?
      Do you see what I did there?

        • I know you meant this comment in jest, but Sanger was actually much less racist than the general population at the time. The myth of Sanger as someone who hated blacks and wanted them eliminated is based on people looking at out-of-context quotes where she denied wanting to eliminate the black population and reading them as her saying she wanted to do so. MLK, Jr. himself received the Margaret Sanger award and praised her for doing a lot to help the black community.

    • COTD.

      I’m coming around to the opinion that some monuments may be worth removing, but probably most are not, for myriad and nuanced reasons that no one wants to bother considering since it’s way more comfortable to run to their extremist camps.

      And yes, I think the tear em down camp is a tad more extremist than the other. And no that doesn’t mean I consider white supremacist ideology to be less extreme than the “tear em down” ideology.

      • (And I’m definitively certain that the decision to remove statues should be left to the permanent local communities of each statue, not to the vast passion-filled nation and definitely not left to an ultimately transient population of juvenile college aged students whose latest opinions are essentially the parroting of their liberal arts hate-America professors.)

        • So you would support, for example, the city of Memphis wanting to move a statue of Nathan Bedford Forest a couple miles away to a civil war battlefield? The local community (city) wants it moved but the state passed a law to prevent them from doing it.

          It’s local communities wanting to either move or remove statues that motivated the Nazis et all into action.

            • The mayor and the city council have been trying for years, that’s why the state passed a law to stop them. The city is 63% black so, and this may be a racist assumption, I’m betting most of them would rather not have a statue of the founder of the KKK.

              I’ve only spent a few hours in Memphis myself, about 5 years ago, and didn’t take the time to poll people on the street.

              • It’s none of the business of “people on the street.” Memorials are like time capsules, informing us about the values, heroes and attitudes of an earlier time. The people on the street can put up their own statues. It’s exactly like speech.

                • People in a city can’t decide, through their elected officials mind you, that they don’t want a statue because a previous generation put it there?

                  So we then go back to statues of Stalin and Saddam.

                  • How about sticking to this country and this culture? That’s a lazy and dishonest dodge.

                    The US has no statues to dictators and mass murderers , because our government doesn’t force monuments and statuary on the public, because our values would never permit honors to mass murderers, because our leaders do not put up monuments to themselves, and most of all, because the USA doesn’t have dictators and killers in power–YET.

                    Current citizens must have respect for history, the past, and the societies of the past when they have decided how they want to be remembered. If not, then statues should be made of LEGOS.

      • And in many instances of monuments “worthy of removal”, why wouldn’t a simple “mitigating” and clarifying further artwork be added of an educational and apologetic nature?

        • Unbelievable. I agree with you.

          I think that should cause both of us to re-evaluate our positions.

          Those idols that were erected by local authorities to put in the boot of white supremacy need removing by the same local authorities. Or the problem is still there. The idols are just symbols.

          Those erected with no such intent, and it’s just not possible that they’re all like that, should be treated according to the wishes of the locals. Some may have to be moved to private property, but all should be treated with the respect the original reason for putting them up deserves.

          • Something tells me that many statists will agree with many libertarians on abstract statements, but when the details like *what level action should be taken*, *how much action should be taken*, and *scope* are fleshed out, we’ll have substantive differences.

        • why wouldn’t a simple “mitigating” and clarifying further artwork be added of an educational and apologetic nature?

          A twice as tall statue of General Sherman looming over the secesh? John Brown (his soul is marching on) facing them down like the Fearless Girl facing down the Wall Street Bull?

        • I have been looking at the Camp Randal monument removal, and the more I think and read about it the more annoyed I am.

          It’s one thing to agitate about a bust of Nathan Forest, but a memorial for 140 dead Confederate POWs?

          It is apparent that the townsfolk — in 1862 — pretty much took these boys under their wings and did their best to help them survive, especially the wounded and sick. The fact that only about 20% of them died says to me that the townsfolk did well, considering the generally horrific conditions most POWs on both sides had to endure.

          It is also evident that the town cared for and honored the memorials for both Union and Confederate soldiers (and presumably veterans who died in our other wars). There must be hundreds, if not thousands, of similar memorials across the length and breadth of the eastern half of the United States. It is not just the national parks and cemeteries. The Civil War touched every town and every hamlet in the country.


          • Thanks for this.

            A hate-based and passion-filled mob cannot be reasoned with. And whether or not there are valid points to raise when having a discussion about Civil War Monuments, there can be no discussion until the Left gets control of its passions.

            But they are not going to do this…because this isn’t about statues. It’s about hate, electioneering and social division.

  5. On the other hand, if the end result is that the Clinton Presidential Center is renamed because of his blatant abuse of women it won’t be all bad.

    Perhaps a call for that action, or a call for Obama to be erased from history because of the slide in race relations during his Presidency, would cause a few SJW’s to rethink their shrieked indignation.

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